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Southwest Asia: British Conservatives Call for Afghan Opium to Be Licensed, Converted to Pharmaceuticals, Not Destroyed

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #471)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

As they prepare for pending elections, British Conservatives have joined the call for licensing of the Afghan opium crop. The move comes just days after the British Medical Association called for Afghan opium to be processed into heroin and prescribed to addicts.

the opium trader's wares (photo by Chronicle editor Phil Smith during September 2005 visit to Afghanistan)
The US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan have an official policy of eradicating the country's poppy crop, but given the potential dangers of pushing opium farmers into the waiting arms of the Taliban, politicians and officials across Europe are increasingly seeking other options. A 2005 proposal by the European defense and drug policy think tank the Senlis Council to license the crop and divert into the legitimate medicinal market has proved to be a convenient starting off point for those seeking alternatives to eradication.

Conservative leader Lord Howell told parliament last week that the "very dangerous" policy of eradication was "just not working." He said alternatives like licensing the crop needed to be looked at. "The more we try to eradicate, the more poppies seem to get grown," he said. "Trying to stop poor farmers growing poppies to survive and live and feed their families is going to be almost impossible," he said.

Lord Howell's comments came just days after the British Medical Association argued that Afghan opium could be used to help deal with a shortage of prescription heroin, or diamorphine, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA's head of science and ethics, told the BBC. "If we actually were harvesting this drug from Afghanistan rather than destroying it, we'd be benefiting the population of Afghanistan as well as helping patients and not putting people at risk," said Nathanson. "There must be ways of harvesting it and making sure that the harvest safely reaches the drug industry which would then refine it into diamorphine," she suggested. "It should be possible, and really Government and the international groups that are in Afghanistan should be looking at this and saying how can we convert it from being an illicit crop to a legal crop that is medicinally useful."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

If supporters of Prohibition could be eradicated by fungal, bacterial or viral means, the world would be a far better place.

Mon, 02/05/2007 - 1:43pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)


Mon, 02/05/2007 - 3:14pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

there is not even an argument on this one; I agree completely with the UK Conservatives on this one. Legalize it, institute a government monopoly, collect the entire crop every year, and sell it over the counter as part of medicines that are also legal.

India has done this, and the policy is the same. I think there's no excuse, given the abject poverty of Afghanistan.

Sun, 03/30/2008 - 5:49pm Permalink

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